This book is rocking my world. Brennan Manning, everyone.
“Spirituality is not one compartment or sphere of life. Rather, it is a lifestyle: the process of life lived with the vision of faith. Sanctity lies in discovering my true self, moving toward it, and living out of it.
John Eagan, who died in 1987, was an ordinary man… and he kept a journal, published shortly after his death. It is the story of an ordinary man whose soul was seduced and ravished by Jesus Christ. The introduction reads,
‘The point of John’s journal is that we ourselves are the greatest obstacle to our own nobility of soul – which is what sanctity means. We judge ourselves unworthy servants, and that judgment becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We deem ourselves too inconsiderable to be used even by a God capable of miracles with no more than mud and spit. And thus our false humility shackles an otherwise omnipotent God.’
Eagan, a flawed man with salient weaknesses and character defects, learned that brokenness is proper to the human condition, that we must forgive ourselves for being unlovable, inconsistent, incompetent, irritable, and potbellied, and he knew that his sins could not keep him from God. They had all been redeemed by the blood of Christ. In repentance he took his shadow self to the Cross and dared to live as a forgiven man.
‘God is asking me, the unworthy, to forget my unworthiness and that of my brothers, and dare to advance in the love which has redeemed and renewed us all in God’s likeness. And to laugh, after all, at the preposterous ideas of ‘worthiness”.
Struggling to shrink the illusory self, Eagan pursued a life of contemplative prayer with ruthless fidelity. During his annual, silent eight-day directed retreat the revelation of his true self hit with sledgehammer force…
‘The heart of it is this: to make the Lord and his immense love for you constitutive of your personal worth. Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. God’s love for you and his choice of you constitute your worth. Accept that, and let it become the most important thing in your life.‘
. . . While the impostor draws his identity from past achievements and the adulation of others, the true self claims identity in its belovedness. We encounter God in the ordinariness of life: not in the search for spiritual highs and extraordinary mystical experiences but in our simple presence in life.
Writing to a New York intellectual and close friend, Henri Nouwen stated,
‘All I want to say to you is, ‘You are the Beloved,’ and all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being – ‘You are the Beloved.”
… God created us for union with Himself: This is the original purpose of our lives. And God is defined as love (1 John 4:16). Living in awareness of our belovedness is the axis around which the Christian life revolves. Being the beloved is our identity, the core of our existence. It is not merely a lofty thought, an inspiring idea, or one name among many. It is the name by which God knows us and the way He relates to us.
‘Who am I?’
Asked Merton, and he responded,
‘I am one loved by Christ.’
This is the foundation of the true self. The indispensable condition for developing and maintaining the awareness of our belovedness is time alone with God. In solitude we tune out the nay-saying whispers of our worthlessness and sink down into the mystery of our true self. Our longing to know who we really are – which is the source of all our discontent – will never be satisfied until we confront and accept our solitude. There we discover that the truth of our belovedness is really true. Our identity rests in God’s relentless tenderness for us revealed in Jesus Christ.
Our controlled frenzy creates the illusion of a well-ordered existence. We move from crisis to crisis, responding to the urgent and neglecting the essential… the fire in the belly dies. We no longer hear what Boris Pasternak called “the inward music” of our belovedness. Mike Yaconelli, the co-founder of Youth Specialties, tells about the time when… he found his true self:
At L’arche, it became very clear to met hat I had totally misunderstood the Christian faith. I came to see that it was in my brokenness, in my powerlessness, in my weakness that Jesus was made strong. It was in the acceptance of my lack of faith that God could give me faith. It was in the embracing of my brokenness that I could identify with others’ brokenness. It was my role to identify with others’ pain, not relieve it. Ministry was sharing, not dominating; understanding, not theologizing; caring, not fixing.
… I can tell you that for the first time in my life I can hear Jesus whisper to me every day, “Michael, I love you. You are beloved.” And for some strange reason, that seems to be enough.
We are looking not at some spiritual giant of a Christian tradition, but at an ordinary evangelical man who has encountered the God of ordinary people. The God who grabs scalawags and ragamuffins by the scruff of the neck and raises them up to seat them with the princes and princesses of His people.
Is this miracle enough for anybody? Or has the thunder of “God loved the world so much” been so muffled by the roar of religious rhetoric that we are deaf to the word that God could have tender feelings for us?